Although it's fun to know why wet sand is better for building castles at the beach, it's also fun to just build 'em.
"Sandy Feet," alias Lucinda Wierenga, teaches sand sculpture to vacationing beachgoers on South Padre Island along Texas' Gulf Coast. She has some neat tips for beginners. (Teaching people to build sand castles on the beach? Nice work if you can get it!)
She recommends leaving the toy-store sand molds at home. Instead, bring a shovel, your bare hands, a dinner fork with the center two tines removed, one or two wire coat hangers that you can bend into carving tools, and a vivid imagination.
To get your raw materials (water and wet sand), start digging. Dig down to the water table -- that is, where you see water at the bottom of the hole. That way, you won't have to set up a bucket brigade to keep your construction site supplied with water and moist sand. Build your castle far enough from the surf so that waves won't topple your skyscraper. But don't put it so far from the water that you have to dig halfway to Russia to find water.
When you're ready to build, use your hands like a front-end loader to scoop very wet sand from the bottom of the hole. Do it fast, so the water doesn't have much of a chance to seep out. The water in the sand will come in handy.
WANT to build a tower? Make some wet-sand patties. Take a double handful of sand from the bottom of the hole and - when it's in place - jiggle it while pressing down gently. The goal, Ms. Wierenga says, is to make sure the water is spread evenly through the patty. Water is the glue that holds the sand together. Slapping the sand will "wring" the water out of it. Stack each patty atop the previous one, making them smaller as the tower gets taller. Don't worry if the sides of the tower look weird. You can neaten them up with your homemade carving tools later.
How about a wall? Don't make a big pile of wet sand and try to shape it. Be a beachgoing bricklayer instead. Scoop up a double handful of sand, but this time jiggle the sand from the sides to form it into a brick. Plop each new sand-brick at the end of the previous one, then shape it. Once the bottom layer of the wall is long enough, build up its height by adding more sand bricks. For stairs, carve a ramp at one end of the wall, then cut the individual steps.
You can use your carving tools to add doors, windows, and even overhangs for roofs.
You'll find other tips and great sand castle pictures at Sandy Feet's Web site: unlitter.com/sandcastle/